Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) Wesley Gibbings has challenged regional journalists to recognise their role as integral stakeholders in agricultural research and development.
Gibbings has also urged the journalists to raise the level of public debate on issues of topical importance to the region such as food security and nutrition.
Noting that there was no end in sight to the rising food-import bills of most Caribbean countries, Gibbings charged his colleagues to use evidence-based journalism to awaken the population to the reality of the region's growing inability to feed itself.
"As journalists, we need to start breaking this myth and this sense of comfort that too many Caribbean countries are falling into at this time, by believing that, notwithstanding small size and a lack of resources, we are capable by ourselves of feeding ourselves," Gibbings told Friday's opening of the 2013 Caribbean Week of Agriculture.
LINKING THE CARIBBEAN
This year's theme is 'Linking the Caribbean for Regional Food and Nutrition Security and Rural Development'.
"We have to start taking people out of this comfort zone that they appear to have with respect to how we could feed ourselves. The fact of the matter is that, in the Caribbean, we are not making ground, and as journalists, we have to tell the truth about it. Otherwise, we are going to face disaster," added Gibbings.
Pointing to the case of Trinidad and Tobago whose annual food import bill is in excess of US$4 billion, Gibbings questioned the validity of that figure which he said had been bandied about for at least the past three years.
"Heaven knows what the actual figure is right now because there is a lot of masking that occurs via unreliable statistics regarding the matter.
"And that's why I think activities such as these are very important, in that, if we bring to bear on these issues the benefit of evidence-based journalism; if we apply the basic journalism principles, then I think that we going to get to the bottom of this and, in the process, we are going to wake and shake our societies up a lot more," he said.
In underscoring the need for a regional tsunami-size wake-up call, the veteran journalist cited a recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations which identified Guyana as the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean with the requisite land space and other resources to feed itself.
Scientist Maurice Wilson, who brought greetings on behalf of the Caribbean Agricultural Research Development Institute, accused regional policymakers of under-estimating the overriding importance of agriculture to the lives of their constituents.
He made this appeal: "We collectively must make agriculture the significant importance in our lives that it is and bring it to the attention of all the principals and stakeholders that matter."
The 12th staging of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture runs until Saturday, October 12.